Feels more like home

Samson Cree Nation elder Theresia Boysis beams as she looks at the murals decorating a home once scarred by graffiti.

Jody Baptiste works on a mural depicting a First Nations landscape on a public building in Hobbema on Thursday.

HOBBEMA — Samson Cree Nation elder Theresia Boysis beams as she looks at the murals decorating a home once scarred by graffiti.

The images painted in bright colours depict a tipi and eagles. But Boysis sees much more.

The tipi door is open, it is a welcome sign to the community, she says. “The eagle can see for miles and miles. It’s our future. It’s our future for our younger generation.

“Our children are so lost. We’re doing this to bring our tradition back.”

Boysis is comforted by the images she is surrounded by as she walks the community.

“Now I can walk the townsite and say, I’m home. I’m back to my culture and my tradition.

“I can’t explain. It’s such a good feeling.”

The murals were born of an effort to beautify the community and erase graffiti that was both an ugly eyesore and a reminder of the community’s troubled past. What they have become is a powerful force in rekindling community spirit and celebrating a proud culture.

Rows of homes once marred by graffiti or an unsightly patchwork of repair jobs are now canvases where thunderbirds soar, wolves howl and medicine wheels offer protection.

“The transformation is just huge,” says Debra Buffalo, community development co-ordinator with the band.

The band’s Citizens in Action Society began the program, inspired by a similar effort in Winnipeg. The idea was taken to the band’s chief and council, who were strongly supportive of the project that also serves as a work experience initiative providing wages for 15 artists and paint crew members.

“We found out 75 per cent of the crew are just wicked artists,” she says. “Things just escalated from there and it turned out to be an amazing project.”

Since the two-month-old program began, 28 homes and two public buildings have been transformed. Only the weather has prevented more from undergoing an artistic rebirth and a waiting list has formed.

The public response has been inspiring. Volunteers have walked up and asked to join in. Even the graffiti taggers are taking notice.

“To date, since we started Sept. 23, none of the work has been graffitied on,” she says. She believes that’s a sign that taggers respect the artwork and the effort behind it.

When winter brings the outdoor painting to a halt, the artists will move indoors. The local high school is first on the list.

Paint crew member Jody Baptiste has also seen the effect the painting has had on the community.

“We see gang members chasing away little kids trying to tag up a house,” he says, during a brief break touching up a wall-length mural on the Hobbema Parents’ Place.

“The community is starting to pull together, I’d say.

“The younger kids, they think differently. They don’t think about tagging houses again and doing the graffiti.”

Lawrence Saddleback has been a Samson Band councillor for 17 years. He is amazed by the artists’ works.

“It’s just changed everything.

“I’ve never seen anything like this — so awesome, so beautiful. It’s just unreal what you see here.

“Everyone in the community can’t believe what’s happening.”

Other communities are catching the enthusiasm. Members of the nearby Montana Band spoke to him just a few days ago about the project.

“They want to do exactly what they see here.”

The O’Chiese Band, north of Rocky Mountain House, and bands at Onion Lake and Saddle Lake have also expressed interest.

Baptiste said he joined the project to help his community.

“It makes me feel good. We’re bringing out the culture.

“Every house has a different story.”

pcowley@bprda.wpengine.com

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